Ayodhya was on my travel wish list for a long time. Ayodhya – the city where Lord Ram was born, the city where the epic Ramayana begins and ends. This is a city every child born in India knows of, even if we do not know its precise geographical location. When I started traveling, I kept looking for travelogues on Ayodhya, there were none. The ones that were there focussed primarily on the Ram Janmabhoomi debate than the city.
It is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus called Sapta-puris, making it a pilgrim place for Hindus. It is a city to be visited. However, in recent times, of all the 7 sacred cities Ayodhya is probably the least visited for multiple reasons. When I visited Ayodhya this October, there were hardly any visitors or tourists. Yes, the infrastructure is limited, but then it’s just a couple of hour drive from Lucknow which is well connected by all means.
Sapta-Puris – 7 Sacred Cities of India are – Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Kashi, Kanchipuram, Ujjain & Dwarka
Places to visit in Ayodhya
Let me walk you through the must-see places in Ayodhya.
Temples of Ayodhya
Ayodhya is full of temples, but here are a few that you must see:
Ram Janmabhoomi Temple
This is the place where we believe that Lord Ram was born. In late 16th CE, a mosque was built on top of this temple. In late 20th CE, the mosque was broken to rebuild the temple. Taking these as historical facts, at this point in time, the spot of Ram Janmabhoomi remains one of the most controversial places in India. The spot is fortified like no place I have seen. You have to deposit everything you have to enter the premises. One has to go through multiple security checks that border on the violation. You have to walk through the narrow pathways with no place to escape if you need to and with commandos watching you all the time.
Monkeys jumping on top of the roofs of barricades make you laugh at your being a human. I walked through the whole place with a lot of excitement as well as anxiety.
When I reached the temple, which is actually a Swiss tent I had tears in my eyes. The idol of Ram Lalla is sitting in a tent, surrounded by commandos and monkeys. As tourists you do not even get close to the tent, it is good 20 feet away from you. In a minute that I was allowed to stand there, I tried to visualize the size of the temple – it seems very small. I wonder if it was a part of the larger complex but there was no way to know that. A pujari ji sat at the fence between us and the temple. He gave us prasad and took the Dakshina. I left the temple with a heavy heart. A place of devotion can not be a war zone.
Hanuman Garhi Temple
Hanuman Garhi is one of the most popular temples in Ayodhya. It is said that when Lord Ram decided to leave the world and enter Saryu River, he called Hanuman. He asked Hanuman to take care of his Ayodhya. Hanuman chose to sit on a hill to watch over Ayodhya. It is believed that Hanuman Garhi temple exists where Hanuman sits guarding the city of Ayodhya.
It is a lovely little temple. You have to climb a lot of steep stairs to reach the temple. However, to tell you the secret, there is a kind of back door entry where the climb is not as much. My most vivid memory of Hanumangarhi temple is its striking colors and it exquisitely carved silver doors.
The idol of Hanuman here is just an odd shaped stone.
At Hanuman Garhi, you must go to the rooftop of the temple. You can a top view of the city of Ayodhya. If you have a guide with you, they would be able to point the various landmarks of the city. How I wish there was a board pointing our or a young pandit trained to tell the visitors about it.
This is probably the most beautiful temple in Ayodhya. Right from its main gate that has colorfully carved recessed arches, it enchants you. You enter to see the carved walls and windows all around the central courtyard. I felt a strong feminine energy in this place even before I heard the legend behind this beautiful temple. Notice, it is called a Bhawan and not a temple which means it is a dwelling place.
Legend is that Kaikayee, the stepmother of Ram and youngest wife of King Dashrath, gifted this palace to Sita on her wedding. Of course, the building as we see it today is relatively new. My guide said that different temples have been built at different points in time at this spot. A board on the main wall of temple explains the renovations done since the treta yuga, dvapara yuga and recent times, complete with the names of the renovators.
The temple at Kanak Bhawan has some of the most beautiful idols of Ram and Sita. Here you get an image of Ram & Sita as prasad. We visited this temple in the evening – evening aarti was going on. Devotees were sitting in front of the idol and singing bhajans evoking an emotion of Devotion.
Ghats of Ayodhya
Ayodhya is situated on the banks of Saryu River. Saryu, also called Sarju, is an integral part of the story of Ramayana. Like every city sacred city located on the banks of a river, there are ghats with stories. A board at Guptar Ghat tells the story of Saryu River that originates from Lake Mansarovar in the Himalayas and soon after Ayodhya merges in the mighty Ganga.
We landed first on the other bank of Saryu at Faizabad. So, my journey of Ayodhya began at Guptar Ghat. A quaint lonely ghat, with a big temple in pale yellow dominating it, stands quietly on banks of Saryu River. A few colorful boats are parked next to the Chai Pakora shops.
We boarded the boat and started our journey towards Ayodhya. On the way, we saw last rites being performed at the sand islands of Saryu.
Legend is that it is at Guptaar ghat that Lord Ram entered Saryu to take Jal Samadhi.
Saryu is a wide river and you can take a long boat ride on it. You get to see many birds as you go around. As you get close to Ayodhya, you get a view of the skyline of Ayodhya.
At Ayodhya, we landed at Jhunki Ghat – a cleaner, grander version of ghats you see at places like Varanasi. The ghat was clean and freshly whitewashed. I had a bright marigold mala around my neck and it almost felt being a part of the place. You can have a peaceful walk on ghats like this.
Laxman Ghat is little ahead of Jhumki ghat. This ghat is considered important because of the belief that this is where Lakshman, the younger brother of Ram, took Jal Samadhi.
We attended the Saryu Arti in the evening. I have attended similar Arti at Ganga in Varanasi and at the Yamuna in Bateshwar. I believe this is a new initiative. As cities grow, new rituals are added and evening arti on banks of rivers seems to be a 21st CE ritual. Having said that, it is a beautiful site to see the river lighted with earthen lamps.
When the multi-tiered lamps go around, it creates a spiritual aura. The music and songs add their own touch to the aura. I enjoy these Arti’s a lot. However, the best one at the moment is still the one at Varanasi.
Finding Ram in Ayodhya
Ayodhya to most of us stands for Ram – who embodies the good qualities in a human being. I tried to understand what Ram would mean in Ayodhya today. I spoke to a few people I met and I learned that in Ayodhya Ram is treated in the swaroop or in the form as one wants. For some, he is still a baby called Ram Lalla. For mothers, he is in the form of a son. And for young men, he is a sakha or friend. Then for people from Mithila – the region where Sita came from, he is Var Roop or the son-in-law. There is no one way to perceive him.
Swami Dineshacharya of Hari Dham gave me a perfect explanation of what Ram stands for and why visitors should come to Ayodhya. He says Ram’s life tells us how to lead a virtuous life. Ram teaches us to be good human and so does Ayodhya. If you understand Hindi, hear him speak about this:
Ayodhya Research Center
In the middle of Ayodhya town is located a relatively new Ayodhya research center. It aims at documenting Ramayana as depicted in various art forms. Well, each and every corner of India has a Ramayana story to tell. Why just India, we find Ramayana stories in Southeast Asia – in Thailand, in Indonesia and of course, Sri Lanka is part of the story itself.
Read More – Ramayana Places in Sri Lanka
At Ayodhya research center, you can see the story of Ramayana in various art forms. There is one wall full of Ramayana in Madhubani paintings. The colorful geometric patterns tell the story we all know. Then there is Ramayana in Odisha’s Patachitra style.
Read More – Ramayana Paintings in Royal Palace, Thailand
There are masks used in various types of Ramayana performances or Ram Lila’s across the continent.
Read More – Ramayana in Madhubani Paintings by Ganga Devi
On the first floor, we saw a series of paintings depicting scenes from Ramayana. What is interesting here is the depiction of Ramayana geography. The physical location of each of scene of Ramayana is depicted on maps. I found this research incredible.
I was also told that Ramayana is performed every day at this center. Although I could not see the performance but I hope I can see it next time I visit Ayodhya.
The city of Ayodhya
It is one of the most colorful cities I have seen. Every house, every Ashram has a colorful facade, making the city look lively and vibrant. The narrow lanes are bustling with activity as the cycles, cars, and humans try to use the same space to reach their destinations.
Video – On the River Sarayu in Ayodhya
Watch the video on the river Sarayu in HD mode. Subscribe to my YouTube channel.
Travel Tips for Ayodhya
If you want to visit the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple, do carry your identity card if you are an Indian and your passport if you are not. You might have intelligence officers walking up to you and ask a few questions. They are friendly, just provide them the information they need.
Ayodhya is a small town. The best way to explore it is by walking around. Although rickshaws are available anywhere.
Ram Navami that typically falls in April and Diwali that typically falls in early November are the biggest festivals associated with Lord Ram. Obviously, they are big celebrations in the city. If you want to attend them, check the festival dates for the year & plan accordingly.
There are not many hotels in Ayodhya. Most accommodation in Ayodhya is in Dharamshala’s attached to various temples or belonging to different communities. For good hotels, you will have to stay in Lucknow. Hope this changes soon.
Food available is mostly vegetarian and simple. We ate at an Ashram and were served a Sattvik Thali – which was not only vegetarian but was also devoid of onion and garlic.
Remember it is a holy city and respect the local culture & ethos.
As they say in Ayodhya – Jai Shri Ram!